Thursday, August 30, 2007

Carpe Diem

We all know this is Latin for Seize the Day, but do we live the phrase?

Since reading a few books like the "Celestine Prophecy" by James Redfield and one about the perfect present (think time not gifts), I have tried to adopt the philosophy of answering when opportunity knocks.

Today, Wine Library TV announced the chance to be part of the development of a "community-based" 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon with the help of Crushpad, skilled vintners, grapes sourced from four distinct Napa regions, and a crazy bunch of wine geeks that call themselves vayniacs.

I am still not sure what part I will play in this adventure, but if a door opens, I am walking though to the other side.

When opportunity knocks, don't hesitate as it might lead to an unforgettable experience.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Size Matters

We have all seen the standard 750ml wine bottle, the 1 liter and the 1.5 liter.

Some of you might have even purchased a "split" or half-bottle of a sweet dessert wine.

But unless you "hang" with some high rollers, professional athletes, or movie / rock stars, I'm betting you have never seen these size bottles of Champagne. The number in bold is the number of standard size bottles in each of these formats.

Magnum (TV private detective, 1980's). 2

Jeroboam (Founder and first king of Israel, 931-910 BC) 4

Rehoboam, son of Solomon (King of Judah, 922-908 BC) 6

Methuselah (Biblical patriarch who lived to the age of 969) 8

Salmanazar (King of Assyria, 859-824 BC) 12

Balthazar (Regent of Babylon, son of Nabonide, 539BC) 16

Nebuchadnezzar (King of Babylon, 605-562 BC) 20

A useful mnemonic for these big bottle sizes is:

My Julie Really Makes Splendid Belching Noises

Big bottles have a novelty value, but because of the difficulty in moving such a large mass for riddling and disgorgement,(see earlier post about how champagne is made) in most cases the secondary fermentation is carried out in magnums. The wine is then decanted into the larger bottles. This inevitably results in a loss of pressure. Some would say that there is a chance of more oxidation as a result of this, and that Champagne from a giant bottle is inferior to that from the magnum from which it was fermented. (See, size really does matter!)

Shape Up!

What shape do you find attractive? Tall and slender like Kate Moss, round and curvy like Sophia Loren, broad shouldered and athletic like Serena Williams or explosive with a little extra junk in the trunk like Jennifer Lopez? (It's not that I am into women, but I can't think of any distinctive male examples.)

Hint: We are not talking body types (somatotypes), but wine.

Have you ever wondered why wine bottles are different shapes? Many times, you can tell a wine bottle's contents from its shape.

First some history. 7000 years ago in Egypt, wine was stored in two-handled containers, usually clay, called amphorae. Glass was a major step forward because it's inert, neutral in flavor, and was much better at preventing oxidation when well sealed. In the late 17th century, glass making technology advanced and uniformly-sized neck bottles could be consistently produced to fit a cork stopper.

Around the beginning of the 19th century, different regions began to adopt their own bottle shapes, and they're the same ones we use today. The most common bottle shapes are:

The Bordeaux Bottle:

This high-shouldered bottle may have derived its shape from the fact that older red Bordeaux varietals often have sediment settled at the bottom. When the wine is either decanted or poured into glasses, the shoulder of the bottle helps to trap sediment particles and prevents them from escaping with the good wine. All red Bordeaux wines are to be found in green glass, while all white Bordeaux varietals are to be found in clear glass (with a few exceptions in green), but both have the distinctive high shoulders. Grape varieties found in these bottles are usually Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. (Think Serena Williams)

The Burgundy Bottle

This elegant, sloping-shouldered bottle, with a fairly wide body can contain either red or white wine. In both France and California, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the classic varietals bottled in this shape. Pinot Noir is usually found in green glass while Chardonnay may be found in either green or clear glass. In California, Chenin Blanc and Rhone varietals are also usually bottled in this shape. (Think Sophia Loren)

The Champagne Bottle

This large, thick-walled and tall-necked bottle has evolved into the ideal shape for storing sparkling wine under tremendous gas pressure. All Champagne and other sparkling wine bottles have a recess or indentation in the bottom of the bottle. For wine stored under tremendous gas pressure, this is essential because it relieves the pressure on the bottom of the bottle. Without the punt (or kick, as it is also called) the bottle might well blow out at the bottom. (Think Jlo)

The German, Alsatian and Dessert Wine Bottle

Many dessert wines made in California are bottled in long-necked bottles that resembles the bottles of Alsace and the Mosel and Rhine wines of Germany. Color plays an important part in distinguishing the wines, too, for all Rhine wines are bottled in brown glass, while all Mosels are bottled in green. In California, the glass may be green, brown or clear. (Yup, you guessed it! Kate Moss)

Next time you are shopping for wine, guess the variety by the shape of the bottle or amaze your friends by "feeling up" the covered bottle at your next blind tasting.

Can't Complain

This is a familiar Midwestern reply to the question, "How are you doing?" It is often spoken by a senior citizen down at the local coffee shop but today, I'm answering.

Two years after Hurricane Katrina, nearly 6 years after 9/11, and just weeks after the 35W bridge collapse and flooding in southern Minnesota, I can't complain.

Sure, we could have used some rain from those recent weather systems but I am thankful that we did not suffer the damage, loss of property and tragic loss of lives that others experienced.

So today, as I haul the hose to yet another drought-stressed tree, I am grateful for a deep well, our health, fresh tomatoes from my garden, sunshine and birdsong, friends and family.... can't complain.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dried Up

Botrytis cinerea is a fungus from a group that includes mushrooms and truffles. One of this mold's favorite hosts is grapevines. It overwinters in plant debris and attacks late in the growing season when nights are cool, mornings are foggy and the days are warm.

This "noble rot" penetrates the skin while preserving it's integrity. The resulting shrivelled clusters have increased concentrations of both acid and sugar. The balanced thick syrup is chilled and clarified and then warmed and inoculated with yeast nutrients. Because of it's Brix content of 35-45 degrees, the resulting wine could end up quite dry with a high alcohol percentage. But, the fermentation is chilled and filtered to produce wines that can bottle age for 10 years or more.

Grape varieties that are highly susceptible to Botrytis include Chenin Blanc, Sémillon and Riesling. Look for a Sauterne from France, a German dessert wine like a beerenauslese or for the richest, sweetest and honeylike wine, a trokenbeerenauslese.

Dried grapes are not limited to raisins, try a dessert wine today.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Are You Chicken?

If there's one food entree that spans the globe, turning up in virtually every culture on Earth, it's the lowly chicken. From the Near East to the Far East and throughout North and South America, across Africa and Europe and just about anywhere, there's a chicken in every pot - whether it is a clay tandoori, a wok or a pricey All-Clad skillet.

So, the question of which wine goes with chicken depends on two main factors; the method of preparation and the sauce or spices.

Both wine and food have body, which is the same as weight or richness. Wine is often described as being light-bodied, medium-bodied or full-bodied. Components that add body to wine include; sugar, alcohol and tannins. In addition, intense aromatics increase the perception of body whereas, acidity decrease this perception.

Similarly, a dish can be described as light or rich. Poached chicken calls for the lightest, most delicate flavored white wine such as an Italian Pinot Grigio, Oregon Pinot Gris, Alsatian Riesling or a New World Sauvignon Blanc. These wines range in flavor from citric or herbal to floral and fruity. Roast chicken can stand up to a more concentrated wines like white Riojas, white Bordeaux or Chardonnay.

Grilling, smoking or frying will add to the perception of weight. Fire up your grill and open a bottle of Viognier or Pinot Noir to enjoy with your chicken. And if you have picked up a bucket or have the recipe for the best Southern fried, pop the cork on a Spanish cava or Italian prosecco. The bubbles will cut through the fat for a mind blowing combination.

Spices and sauces are the second factor to consider when choosing a wine pairing. Take the tandoori chicken. Curried dishes either require very bold reds like a Syrah or Shiraz to stand up to the complex spices or a fruity, low acid white like a Chenin Blanc or a spicy Fume Blanc.

The most successful combinations are fruit-driven wines of moderate acidity. Beaujolais is an excellent match for the tandoori chicken, accentuating the smoky-char flavors of the dish. Other fruity wines, such as Gewürztraminer, provide enough fruit to cushion the spice in the dishes. These wines offered dimension and balance with Latin, Asian, Thai cuisine.

In the "Secrets from the Wine Diva: Tips on Buying, Ordering & Enjoying Wine" by Christine Ansbacher she uses an acronym for wine and food pairings.

White Cuffs

W: weight

C: cooking method

U: umami (the word for “yummy” in Japanese, identified as the fifth taste bud sensation)

F: fat in the meat

F: fatty ingredients in the preparation

S: spicy, salty or smoky components (avoid tannic wines)

Don't be chicken. Roll up your White Cuffs and reach for the wine list.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Let's Mix It Up!

I'm not proposing a fight, but a blending of two styles. For instance, two unique individuals decide to get married, bringing their distinct tastes into the relationship and they stay together for awhile. Now, imagine visiting their home six months later to see how they have decorated and what they like to eat and drink. Take that analogy and apply it to wine.

Blending can enhance aroma; improve the color; add or minimize flavors and tastes; adjust the pH of a wine; lower or raise acidity; raise or lower alcohol levels; adjust the sweetness of a wine and raise or lower levels of tannin. Blending is used to improve the quality, character and complexity of wine.

Winemakers can blend different varieties; blend grapes from different vineyards; blend wines from different vintages; blend by mixing and matching different varietals from a variety of vineyards; blend wines that have received different vinification or blend wines from different casks or barrels. Basically, you can blend any time but it is most often done between fermentation and bottling.

If the wine maker has a specific goal, they will use a tool called the Pearson Square.

The center of the square, represents the "target" value we want to blend for (in this case, we want to obtain a wine of 12% alcohol).
The upper left corner, represents the known alcohol percentage of wine #1 (Our first is 15% alcohol).
The lower left corner, represents the known alcohol percentage of wine #2 (another which is 11% alcohol).

To use the Pearson Square, find the difference between the values in the corner and the center "target" value, and place the answer in the opposite corners. This value is always the absolute value (no negative numbers allowed!) of the difference.... so, for our example:
15 minus 12 equals 3, and12 minus 11 equals 1.

We will need 3 parts of the 11% wine to mix with 1 part of the 15% wine to end up with our "target" wine of 12%. Pretty neat, huh? It's easy to use this equation when you want to raise or lower pH, acidity, sugar levels, etc. Just put your target value in the center, your known values for the two wines in the left corners, and do some subtraction to obtain the mixing ratios.

Meritage is a trademarked name for Bordeaux-style red and white blends coined by a group of fellow California winemakers in 1988. Some of America's best-known "establishment" wines are bottled under proprietary names, wines like the Mondavi-Rothschild joint venture, Opus One; Justin Vineyards' Isosceles; Dominus by Christian Moueix; Joseph Phelps' Insignia.

Don't be afraid to mix it up!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fresh Cut Grass

Finally, after months of syringing the lawn to keep it alive, last Friday night we had a whole inch of rain mixed with wind. The lawn reacted to this somewhat insignificant moisture by growing enough to need mowing twice. Rain water must have those extra trace elements and nutrients all green things require.

As I was pushing the old-time rotary mower today, I reveled in the scent of freshly cut grass. What this has to do with wine follows.

This grassy scent reminded me of a characteristic in one of my favorite grape varietals, Sauvignon Blanc. However, unlike other grapes, this one suffers from a multiple personality disorder.

Depending on the terroir, vineyard canopy management that controls sunlight and summer heat, and wine making techniques, like fermentation temperatures, the flavors can range from grassy, grapefruit or citrus to melons and sweetly tropical. Wine writers often use the phrase "cat's pee on a gooseberry bush” or green chiles as favorable descriptions of Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand.

It was thought to originate in France along two major rivers, the Loire and the Gironde, the later cutting through Bordeaux. Here in Graves, it is commonly blended with Semillon to “fatten up” the "austere" wine. However, In France’s Loire Valley, vineyards sit in the rolling rocky limestone hills of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume which are full of nitrogen, boosting Sauvignon Blanc's mineral qualities. This fermented juice is kept pure and is found under these distinct appellation names. If you want to explore further, French Sauvignon Blancs also go by such names as Cheverny, Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Touraine.

Sauvignon Blanc made it to California in the 1870s and was one of the first wine grapes in America to be popular enough to get its name on the label, starting in the 1930s. Robert Mondavi introduced a change in cellaring in the 1970s, when he began aging Sauvignon Blanc in oak barrels instead of the usual stainless steel tanks. He also called the wine, "Fume Blanc" to increase consumer interest.

Today there are a growing number of world-class Sauvignon Blancs coming to the United States from South Africa, Chile and of course, New Zealand. A secret of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is blending -- vintners use grapes from as many as 10 different vineyards to make a single wine.

Sauvignon Blanc's alcohol level is generally lower than other whites, and has enough palate-cleansing acidity to cut through Asian, Mediterranean and Latin American cuisines. When slightly chilled, it pairs well with fish or cheese, particularly goat cheese or chevre. It is also known as one of the few wines that works well with sushi.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Is There Anybody Out There?

Yesterday, the five-man, two-woman team, including the former elementary school teacher Barbara Morgan, took off aboard the Endeavour from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Morgan trained 22 years ago as the backup to Challenger crew member Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire social studies teacher who died along with six astronauts seconds after the Challenger liftoff on January 28, 1986, when a booster rocket blew up.

Civilian fliers were banned from shuttles after Challenger and Morgan joined the astronaut corps in 1998.

Today, NASA is moving forward with a new focus for the manned space program: to go out beyond Earth orbit for purposes of human exploration and scientific discovery. And the International Space Station is now a stepping stone on the way, rather than being the end of the line.

As a fan of Gene Roddenberry's vision of space exploration in both the Star Trek movies and TV series, I certainly hope that they find more evidence of life beyond Earth. It is less isolating to think that our existence is all that there is in this universe.

Writing a blog about your life and interests can also be isolating. I would love to hear your comments and questions as you continue on your own personal life quest. I know that learning is very stimulating but getting different points of view broadens the discussion. Where or what would you like to explore today?

Thursday, August 9, 2007


As yet another rain producing weather front skirted our property, leaving us as dry as a county during Prohibition, I was reminded of how those 13 years changed our country.

Here is an excerpt from Peter McWilliams' book, "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do"

The Eighteenth Amendment only prohibited "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors . . . for beverage purposes." Although this was the "supreme law of the land," it still required an Act of Congress to make it enforceable. Enter the super-dry, ultra-religious congressman from Minnesota, Andrew J. Volstead.

Many who supported the Eighteenth Amendment took the term "intoxicating liquors" to mean liquor: whiskey, rum, and other distilled spirits. Most liquors were at least 40% alcohol ("eighty proof"); some, particularly of the "greased lightning" variety, were as much as 90% alcohol. Surely beer, with its three to seven percent alcohol content, and wine, with its less-than-fifteen percent alcohol content, would be permitted—with certain restrictions and regulations, of course.

Much to people's surprise, Volstead, backed by the triumphant evangelicals, defined "intoxicating liquors" as any beverage containing more than one-half of one percent alcohol. Using the momentum of the anti-German, anti-beer bias, Volstead was able to pass his National Prohibition Act over President Wilson's veto.

Prohibition began easily enough: the people who drank stocked up on liquor before it was illegal; those who planned to give up drinking treated January 28, 1920 as though it were New Year's Eve, and the following day their New Year's resolutions began. The poor, who couldn't afford to stock up, were catered to by saloon keepers who, rather than closing voluntarily, stayed open until they were shut down.

After a year or so, the reserves (and resolves) were depleted, and people got thirsty again—including some people who had never been thirsty before. The fact that alcohol was now prohibited made it somehow irresistible. There's always something tantalizing about forbidden fruit—in this case, the fruit of the vine.

The California grape growers, no longer permitted to make wine, produced a grape juice product known as Vine-Glo. The Vine-Glo literature carefully instructed buyers what not to do, because, if they did those things, they would have wine in sixty days. The demand for grape juice grew dramatically. In 1919, 97,000 acres were devoted to growing grapes for "juice." By 1926, it was 681,000 acres. In 1929, the U.S. government loaned the grape growers money to expand even further.

Beer brewing, wine making, and distilling became common practices in the home. An enterprising home brewer could make enough liquid refreshment to give as gifts or even sell.

All you had to do to stay entirely within the law was get sick. The Eighteenth Amendment only prohibited alcohol for "beverage purposes." Medicinal alcohol was perfectly legal and, for some unknown reason, doctors began prescribing more and more of it during the 1920s. In addition, various elixirs, tonics, and other patent medicines available over-the-counter without prescriptions relied heavily upon the medicinal qualities of alcohol.

After the repeal of Prohibition, the federal goverment empowered states to legislate the sale and transportation of alcohol. Some states handed control to counties and even municipalities, a tradition that continues today and varies from state to state.

These laws hinder the online sales and shipping of wine. Let's free the grapes! Contact your representative. Make wine dreams not war nightmares.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Family Ties

You all know the saying “You can choose your friends and you can choose your enemies, but you can't choose family!" Like Martha Stewart says, “That’s a good thing.”

Relationships are difficult regardless of relativity but history adds even more interesting twists. However, there are also opportunities for personal growth. Knowing where you’ve come from, the hereditary traits you’ve inherited can either push you to change or embrace the traits of your choosing.

Where is this esoteric rambling leading? On Saturday, after an emotionally draining day, we accepted an invitation to share a meal with my husband’s aunt and some first cousins. Slightly reluctant to experience an awkward gathering, we found out what they were serving, inquired about what we could contribute and then plucked a bottle of Conquista Malbec 2005, a product of the Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina, out of the cellar.

As one of the “in-laws” or outlaws, as I like to call myself, I was able to watch their family dynamics with some objectivity.

It was just what the doctor ordered as we blended effortlessly into their evening. We were enveloped into the flow of conversation, meal preparation and mini dramas. (Those are a given at any family get together, right?)

Sharing wine, telling stories, making toasts to loved ones we’ve lost, and making new memories reminded me how much family means, no matter how dysfunctional.

After all, what is normal? Is there anybody out there who fits that description?

The Europeans have the right idea; they make family and mealtime an important part of their day. Open a bottle with family or friends tonight, share a meal and some stories.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Bringing The Thunder

Where we live, outside of Alexandria, MN, there has not been measurable rain since the first of May. So, all summer, we have been sustained by only FOUR inches of "heaven's tears".

I have watered the garden, the young plants and trees but our woods, our farmer's crops, our lake levels are suffering.

Saturday, after the burial of our much loved pet, the mist started and mixed with our tears. We stayed outside doing a rain dance to no avail.

Since I am unable to bring the thunder, I have to be satisfied reading and watching Gary Vaynerchuk.

You can too at:,9171,1638446,00.html

Let's change the wine world!

Summer Vacation

Back in my day, this was the obligatory first essay of the school year given by our elementary English teacher.

My absence from blogging does not involve tales of distant destinations or of being a lazy beach bum. Rather, it is due to a combination of writer’s block mixed with high temperatures and large populations of biting insects. And apathy.

Habits are easier to maintain if you have a discipline gene. I know at a cellular level that I don’t have that particular one. I start out flossing right after my dental cleaning and it never seems to last. Up until last week, I had quit drinking coffee for 3 months but all the ads for iced coffees were too tempting. I had three in one week!

So today is a new day, I flossed last night, did not have any coffee this morning, and although I could use the excuse that my yoga instructor is on her summer vacation, I will do yoga on my own…. later.

Minnesota Long Goodbye

I have both witnessed and been a participant in this indigenous tradition.

It all starts in your hosts’ home as you stand up to leave. The current topic of conversation continues unabated as you start walking. Then, like an episode of the Twilight Zone, everyone flows toward the door at the rate of a melting glacier, before global warming.

As your hand grasps the door handle to indicate your imminent departure, your body straddles both the inner and outer dimensions. Here, depending on the temperature outside or the current population of biting insects, you may hover for mere minutes or start discussing the most favorite topic of Minnesotans, the weather.

Reaching your car with your hosts’ trailing behind, you open the door and stand near your seat, looking around to comment on any outdoor improvements you might have missed upon your arrival. Be wary of your hosts’ invitation to take you on a tour of their latest project at this point, as you may miss your flight or be dodging deer while driving in the dark.

By now you ease into the car and close the door. But everyone is still talking so you roll down your window for any last minute news or directions. This portion of the farewell can be as lengthy as everything you have already experienced.

After the leftovers or goodies are handed through the window for your drive home and calendars are consulted for your next visit, you head down the drive, turning to wave until your hosts’ are no longer visible.

When you get home, have a nightcap, you deserve it!


Seventeen years of food, litter and vet bills = major $$$

Seventeen years of keen curiosity, comforting purrs, soft furry rubs and unconditional love…… priceless.